Illustrator Nathan Rapport: "You Have To Make The Work"

Illustrator Nathan Rapport: "You Have to Make the Work"


Nark sent me on a mission to Los Angeles to find Nathan Rapport, the artist anointed as flyer designer for Alternative Pride 2018. I found him on a busy street at rush hour in an improbably calm apartment. Population: Rapport, his partner, and their defiantly lounge-y cats Larry and Harvey Milk. Nathan turned out to be a soft-spoken ginger wearing a shirt currently being sold to raise funds for the Glamamore documentary project. He is sweet, but on a slight time crunch because he had Depeche Mode tickets. 


Born in the San Fernando Valley, Rapport returned to SoCal with the current wave of creatives pouring into LA. Amid the freeways and palm trees he has weathered the Trumpocalypse. Buoyed by a community of hustling queer crafters, he talks about a renewed conviction that creatives have an urgent imperative to follow their muse, to fight the malaise, to develop their artistic language. “There’s a sense that everybody’s suffering,” he says. “But no ones talking about it.” 


“Things like Prince, things like Grace Jones, things like Madonna, things like Nine Inch Nails growing up were hugely influential and still make their way into my work all the time.”


A onetime DJ, his own parlance is set to music. “Things like Prince, things like Grace Jones, things like Madonna, things like Nine Inch Nails growing up were hugely influential and still make their way into my work all the time,” he says. “I think it was just that attitude, that heightened sense of sexual empowerment and pushing racial boundaries and these little weird worlds that existed back then of like, smoke and lace and guitars.”


Certainly, in Rapport’s work there lies a counterpoint to the flexed and lubed hard bodies of corporate Pride imagery. As a painter he is located in a universe where queer males are centered, where cis men experience moments of explicit, tender perversion. His most commercially successful project to date, a coloring book called “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” explores the intersection of heartbreak and promiscuity and the emotional repair that can be found choking on several dicks at once. Reeling promiscuously through a post breakup fog, Rapport tapped into something real in his drawings of moony boys’ eyes while they double fisted cocks. 


“It felt like I was making a mixtape, or making a playlist...” 

“It felt like I was making a mixtape, or making a playlist,” he remembers. “But also, talking about something happening in my life that was painful and something we're not trained to talk about much. Especially with gay men, we're not inclined to be like, why are we doing this?” The book struck a chord from Russia to small town America, and Rapport found himself hastily setting up an online store for his work the first time. 


“Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” is an exemplar of the “accessible art” projects Rapport takes as his mandate. They are objects delivered at a reasonable price for ultimate cultural impact, Rapport’s evolution of the Warholian love of mass production.


A look at Nathan’s online store provides other examples of his idea of accessibility. There’s a yellow t-shirt with heart shaped glasses beholding boxer brief clad erections, flanked by palm trees and in 1960s postcard script; “Kiss Them For Me.” Another fan favorite are his “How Will I Know?” pins, tiny hands in fisting-ready formation. They seem perfect for adding a low-key touch of heteronormative non-compliance to a lapel or backpack


He will make a beautiful Alt Pride flyer. But chatting with Nathan about the road that led him to this current body of work, I began to wonder if Nark’s choice of designer for the marquee community event didn’t also have to do with Rapport’s intertwined careers in queer event production, theater-drag experimentations, and a general belief in the redemptive power of alternative sexuality, because Nathan’s gotten around. Perhaps you remember his sweaty Sass dance parties in Detroit with Mike Servito. Or maybe you met Nikki Sixx Mile, a rock ’n’ roll queen and set designer in the Bay Area drag scene who plotted musical transgression in Trannyshack events. There was the San Francisco Album Project, a celebration of iconic music and DIY creativity, which Nathan co-founded. The happy rebellion of Austin’s Queer Bomb pulled him to Texas, where he bought a house and finally found a toehold in the mainstream art world, creating colorful worlds at Texas powerhouse ZACH Theatre. 



Ask him about the core of his art and he returns to figure painting. His mom enrolled Nathan at an early age in drawing courses and he says he can still spend hours in a museum staring at the technical, anatomic mastery of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. He earned a degree from Wayne State in painting and printmaking before stepping back for those years of nightlife, drag, set designing swirl. He recently returned to painting and classical influences peek out from his florid queer love scenes, intertwined bodies infused with all the naturalism of a leafy plant. 


“You have to make the work”


The figures are the current culmination of Rapport’s track record of creating events and images echoing collective queer notions, pushing forward conversations that may not otherwise take place. Having surfed the US’ pockets of queer creativity, digested their commonalities and pondered their differences, Rapport thinks a lot about his art’s posterity. The future seems to be about pushing the possibility that, like an indie song or a cult movie, a creation of his will come to encapsulate a queer moment in time. But before that, the hustle to keep moving in dark times. “You have to make the work,” he laughs. “That's the hardest part.”

The Seattle Alternative Pride Artwork, hand painted by Nathan Rapport.

Join us this Weekend, 6/21-24 2018 for Alternative Pride, 10 events, 4 days, 7 venues, benefitting Gay City LGBTQ Center, weekend passes and individual tickets available here.

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